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Gun Shootings Require Action From Lawmakers–Not Just Prayers

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Two days after the midterm elections, I woke up to the news that another mass shooting occurred–this time in a supposedly safe suburban community outside of Los Angeles.  A white man opened fire in a college bar and grill restaurant killing 12 persons, including a 29 year police veteran.

On Saturday, November 3, I woke up to the news that a gun shooter killed two persons in a yoga class and wounded several others. My initial thought was we can’t even peacefully pray, meditate or practice yoga or dance in this country without the fear of being gunned down. It was just the previous week that I felt the pain of gun violence at a Pittsburgh synagogue killing seven Jewish persons. And yet, many of our powerful lawmakers act powerless in the face of tragedy.  We need more than just thoughts and prayers in these tragedies from our lawmakers.

Tragedy is what propelled Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate, to run for office. McBath appears headed to Congress from Georgia’s 6th district, once held by Newt Grinch. McBath fueled her grief over the death of her son, Jordan Davis, to running for office to end gun violence. Davis was shot down because the white killer acted out his rage against a car of African American teenagers.

I do believe one person can make a difference. And there must be a counter position to that of Donald Trump. Trump thinks that putting guns and armed individuals inside every building in America will solve the problem. A security guard and police deputy entered the shooting today.  Blaming the victims for not having armed guards in their places of worship, schools, malls and everywhere across the country is not the answer. Having more guns is not the solution to the problem. Guns in the hands of more individuals will only cause more deaths. There is a reason why many police departments across the country have gun turn in days where persons can turn in guns to the authorities without any hassle. Many law enforcement leaders know less guns on the streets equal less lives being taken.

Trump also wants Americans to accept that gun violence is a way of life that we must accept. We can’t do anything about death. We all will die. We must accept death. We can do something about gun violence.

Most people want a cure to cancer, Alzheimer’s and most other illness that often take the lives of our loved ones. We accept that cures for terrible diseases are within our reach. Gun violence is a malignancy that is affecting our way of life. And unlike cancer and other terminal diseases, there are no attempts for gun legislative cures being sought. Other countries have found a solution to the problem. Yet, “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump and most of the Republican party have thrown in the towel on fixing senseless gun violence.

Let me give our leaders and future leaders some advice. All is not lost. As a country, we can’t give up or give in to gun violence. We are a country of fixing problems. That’s what will make America great—not succumbing to apathy to gun violence and deaths from it.
First, we can take a lead from other countries where gun violence is relatively low. We can also make it difficult to quickly obtain a gun permit; increase the age requirement; and require more lengthy background checks to investigate a person’s mental stability . The assault weapons ban must be renewed outlawing those military style weapons and high capacity magazines whose sole purpose is to shoot multiple persons at a time—not intended for hunting or sports. In 2017, that bill was voted down.

Just as all cancers are not alike and require different cures, not all gun killings are alike. And there must be different legislative cures for the differences in gun violence. Mass shootings often occur with military style guns that can kill and injure many persons at a firing.

We can also vote in those politicians, like McBath, who have a passion to fix the gun violence plague. After all, any one of us might be the next victim of gun violence. The life you save may be your own.

UPDATE:  15 House Republicans with an “A” rating by the NRA lost in the midterm elections. They were replaced by Democrats who received a “F” rating by the NRA.  Lucy McBath will be joined by others in a quest to legislate for gun control to save lives.

Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Another Day, Another School Shooting, Another Killing

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

assaultweapons (1)Days after the 17 minute school walk out in protest of gun violence and on the week of the Washington, DC March for Life on Saturday, March 24, another school shooting occurs.  This time, the shooting occurred at Great Mills High school in a small town in southern Maryland with the shooter, a teenage student, shooting a 16 year old girl and a 14 year old boy—all students.  They survived. The shooter died. Instead of an assault rifle, this time it was a Glock semiautomatic. Motive or target was yet undetermined.  So far, it was the 17th school shooting since January 1, 2018, according to CNN.

 

After hearing about the school shooting in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on Tuesday, March 20, I recalled the first time when  I appeared in a court case in St. Mary’s.  The court house is located in Leonardtown, MD which is a very small sleepy little town.  I am sure that nothing much in the way of crime happens in St. Mary’s. Nearby Leonardtown where the Circuit Court lies has a population of roughly 2,000. Great Mills is much larger with just over 8000 residents.  These towns in St. Mary’s are hardly metropolitan cities or even near a metropolitan city.  Once again, like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High school, the area is one where a school shooting would likely appear to be out of the ordinary. Except in this day and time, no school is out of the ordinary for a shooting to occur.  The cycle of wash, rinse, repeat when it comes to gun violence continues in schools, churches, movies, malls and on neighborhood streets.  And the same cycle continues when it comes to actions taken by politicians to help stymie the gun violence in America.

 

As a former prosecutor, the story of guns, gun violence, shootings and death are not new news.  According to the American Bar Association, in 2013, there were over 11,200 murders with firearms. African Americans suffered 57% of all murders with firearms, even though blacks only make up 13% of the U.S. population. In contrast with other countries, in 2010, there were 17 firearm deaths in Finland; 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales; 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany and 200 in Canada.

We know the problem.  We also know some of the solutions.  We just lack the ability to combine gun problem with solution in a meaningful way.  There is no one solution size fits all when it comes to different types of gun violence.  One thing is for sure, more guns are not the answer.  Ditto for arming teachers.

 

Besides banning assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, increasing age to purchase a firearm to age 21, denial of gun purchases due to serious mental health issues and domestic violence orders, tightening gun permit laws on  three day wait at gun shows, restricting guns at sensitive places including colleges, churches, county owned property, we need to restrict sales of guns by private individuals.

We should also look to those other countries who have so few murders, albeit they don’t have the NRA and the second amendment to contend with.   In 1996, both Britain and Australia had mass shootings.  In 1996, a lone shooter entered a school in Scotland and killed 16 -five and six-year-old children plus a teacher.  And in the same year in Australia, a man killed 35 people in a mass shooting at a cafe.  Both Britain and Australia had a major crackdown on gun laws and passed sensible gun laws.  Our legislators haven’t reached the boiling point where they will enact gun laws to save lives.

What appears different and just may work now is the pressure being exerted by the voices of young persons who have experienced gun violence all their lives.  And those voices are not limited to school gun violence but to gun violence in the urban cities and in places like St. Mary’s County.  No place is immune to gun violence.  No one is safe.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney, legal analyst and former prosecutor who is frequently seen in the media addressing gun laws and crimes.

Ban the Assault Weapons Elephant in the Room

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

assaultweapons (1)On the same day that Florida House lawmakers’ committee voted to arm  some teachers, a Georgia social studies teacher was arrested for bringing a gun to school, firing it, barricading himself and causing students to run to avoid being stuck and possibly killed.   According to Dalton, Georgia police, the teacher,   Randall Davidson will  face charges of aggravated assault, carrying a weapon on school grounds, terroristic threats, reckless conduct, possession of gun during commission of a crime, and disrupting a public school.  Following the Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17 persons, Donald Trump proposed that teachers should be provided with incentives to be armed with guns in the classroom.

Florida House committee responded to the Parkland school shootings by approving a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy any gun, require a three-day waiting period for rifle purchases and create a program that could allow some teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.  Davidson had a concealed weapon and improperly used it.

Davidson points to one reason why teachers should not be armed. There are many reasons for this policy to never reach the light of day. Arming teachers will not solve the gun violence issue in schools.  It will only exasperate it.  Teachers are taught and paid to teach students.  They are not taught or trained to possibly shoot to kill their own students.  They are not trained to be SWAT police or law enforcement.  And even with trained law enforcement, they often get it wrong and kill innocent persons—as the shootings of many unarmed Blacks prove.

The Trump administration, GOP lawmakers and Florida lawmakers, many who get financial support from the NRA, refuse to ban assault rifles and associated ammunition.  Assault weapons are the elephant in the room.  Everyone can see the elephant but no one wants to acknowledge its presence. Short term fixes are like band aids to fix a person bleeding from a fatal gun wound. Until lawmakers begin by banning assault weapons and assorted ammunition, many persons will continue to bleed and die from being shot with assault weapons.

The shooter in the Parkland, Florida school shooting had 150 rounds of ammunition remaining before he chose to leave and walk out of the school.   He could have killed many more persons than the 14 students and three teachers.  If he had not been able to purchase the guns, the incident wouldn’t have happened.  Raising the age to buy guns is a limited fix. A killer like Nikolas Cruz can just wait three more years until he reaches the age requirement to buy a killing machine.  That fix is a temporary one.

Banning assault weapons and related ammunition is the one law that will effectively prevent the type of shootings that occurred in Parkland, Florida, Newtown, Connecticut, Charleston, SC, Aurora, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, Columbine and many other locations. In November, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons.  The 4th Circuit federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia ruled that assault weapons are not protected by the second amendment, as they are weapons of war and not for self-defense.  While banning assault weapons will not cure all that ails this county in terms of gun violence, it is a good start to end mass killings in churches, schools, movie theaters, concerts, shopping centers and everywhere we congregate in crowds.

There is no legal reason preventing us from banning assault weapons of mass destruction—except for our cowardly lawmakers.  And if lawmakers won’t vote to ban assault weapons, it’s time to vote these lawmakers out.

Update:  Tweet From a student at Dalton High School on arming teachers.

my favorite teacher at Dalton high school just blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. We had to run out The back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe.

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Washington, DC Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor.  She is an outspoken gun control advocate.

Here’s How to Fix DACA and Gun Laws

Monday, February 26th, 2018

UnionRallyGroupIn a significant blow to the Trump Administration, the Supreme Court denied, without comment, the administration’s request to leapfrog ahead the system to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court an adverse California federal court ruling on “DACA”- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Previously, a California federal judge denied the Trump administration’s order to immediately end DACA—stating that the Administration was enjoined nationwide from ending it.  It thereby ensured that almost 700,000 DREAMers may continue to remain in the country—at least for a while longer.   DACA is the program established by President Obama in 2012 which protects against deportation some of those who entered the country illegally as children. Trump sought to end the program in March, 2018.

The current status of the case, in light of the court’s ruling, is the Trump administration must now go through the normal court route and appeal the ruling to the 9th circuit, which hears appeals from California’s lower federal courts.  The Universities of the California filed a lawsuit stating that their lawsuit must be allowed to proceed before a ruling against DACA.  Depending on the ruling in the 9th circuit after hearing oral arguments and filing briefs, the case may still eventually proceed to the Supreme Court.  For now, it is not on the fast track that the Trump administration intended for it.   It could take well over a year to reach the Supreme Court.  By then—we may have a new Congress.

And for now, this puts DACA back in the public spotlight.   With much recent focus on gun legislation in light of the Parklands, Florida school shooting and killing of 17 persons, many other issues have taken a back seat.  It is as if the dyslexic Trump presidency and GOP controlled House and Senate lawmakers cannot focus on more than one issue at a time.  And the issue of gun violence extends far beyond school shootings to violence in our cities and everywhere people go.  Immigration and gun laws need fixing. Neither have been presented with any viable legislative fixes. With November, 2018 in the wings, it is all the more important that the Supreme Court declined to fast track DACA.

In the interim, everyone affected by DACA and this includes DREAMer’s schools, colleges, employers, families, friends and co-workers should register to vote and vote in the November midterm election. The future of over 600,000 persons who are in this country since childhood depends on it.  For now, until November, 2018, their lives hang in the balance.  Today’s Supreme Court decision gave DREAMers a much-needed reprieve.  Perhaps following November, 2018’s midterms election, a change in the GOP party- controlled House will offer a permanent fix to both DACA, immigration and gun laws. If the GOP will not fix either DACA, immigration or gun control laws, we need to fix the GOP by voting them out of office.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political commentator and member of the Supreme Court bar.

Why is it Easier to Kill Kids than Change Gun Laws?

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

assaultweapons (1)Last Wednesday as I sat in a hospital family waiting room awaiting the surgical outcome for my brother, a breaking news alert flashed across the TV screen. Another school shooting had occurred.  This time the shooter took aim in Parkland, Florida at Douglas High school-killing 17 persons including students, one teacher, wrestling coach and football coach.  At first, I couldn’t bear to watch under my present circumstances at the time. As the day ended and the next day arrived, I saw students speaking out on TV about the shooting and their fervent plea for changes to our gun laws.

Having once debated  former NRA president David Keene on gun rights, I know the NRA opposes any restrictions which take away gun rights.    However, I also know we need to prioritize life over death; people over profits; actions over silence; laws over prayers and kids over guns. While the second amendment grants the rights to bear arms, the Declaration of Independence states we are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words suggest at a minimum that these are the values that our society holds dear.  Unequivocally we honor and value life over death in all circumstances except when it comes to demands of the NRA and the acquiescence of many lawmakers who accept their donations and then do their bidding.

 

We turn our attention to the shooters and look for their pattern.  We go to great lengths to see patterns and ways to have prevented mass shootings like Douglas.  We say prayers and thoughts for the victims when we need action and prevention.   Last year was called the deadliest year in mass shooting. 2018 is off to a running start to take the lead.  In 1999, the year of Columbine shooting at a Colorado high school, 12 students and one teacher were shot. By 2017, Columbine no longer makes the list for the top ten mass shootings.

As we look for patterns of these mass shooters, we overlook the one common thread.  We want to blame mass shootings on Muslims, the mentally ill and persons with mental health issues. While mental health issues may be one component of some mass shootings, the Trump administration blocked efforts by the Social Security Administration from supplying names of mentally impaired receiving benefits to the national gun database.  The sole culprit in all mass shootings are guns. Many involve assault type weapons that can execute a multitude of victims at a time.  Assault weapons are weapons of war. They should be banned for recreational use.  And assault weapons account for a majority of mass shootings. Assault weapons are the common denominator  in mass shootings.   From 1982 to 2012,  half of all mass shooters used assault weapons, high capacity magazines or both.

 

Until we pass gun legislation that bans weapons that allows a shooter to fire a large number of bullets without reloading, we will continue to see mass shootings.  It seems like a no brainer to value our children over guns.  In our morally bankrupt society, guns are valued over the lives of children and everyone else.

In November, 2018, we have an opportunity to elect lawmakers who will address changing gun laws.  While we cannot change the hearts of those opposed to sensible gun laws, we can change those lawmakers from representing our children’s lives.  Our children’s lives are more important than guns.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer,  legal/political commentator and former Baltimore City prosecutor.

What if the Las Vegas Killer was Black, Muslim or God Forbid Both

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

las-vegas-The Las Vegas mass shooting and killing by Stephen Paddock resulting in 58 deaths and hundreds of injured individuals is a horrific event in our history.  The media’s focus on the motive of the killer and the whitewashing of Paddock committing the crime loses the point.  There are no good motives for killing anyone—let alone over 50 persons.  Any killer who kills innocent persons while perched from a high-rise luxury hotel shooting them down as if he were playing a video game, is not a good person. Much of the media has gone out of the way to paint Paddock as a regular white guy.  I can’t but help to think how the media would have addressed the killer if he or she were Black, Muslim or both.

Every possible good trait known about Paddock has been mentioned.   From being prescribed Valium to being a high stakes gambler and an apparently wealthy individual with a girlfriend, the media has struggled to make sense out of his killing rage.  Contrasting the depictions of a good white male figure with how the media describes Black or Muslim killers and victims makes me what to scream out loud.

Assumptions of a bad actor are the routine media response when describing even Black victims, particularly when shot and killed by whites.  Trayvon Martin was said to be “up to no good;” Ditto for Michael Brown who was shot and killed in Ferguson.  The media went out of its way to find anything bad associated with Michael Brown. Media accused Brown of a robbery before police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The alleged robbery had nothing to do with Darren Wilson shooting Brown.  Freddie Gray was portrayed as a criminal instead of the six officers who were on trial for his murder.  Eric Garner was portrayed as a criminal selling loose cigarettes illegally instead of a victim gasping for air while being unlawfully choked to death.

And for Muslims who are involved in killings, there is never any semblance of the media looking into the individual’s life for anything good.  Media almost always looks for everything that a Muslim did wrong, any association with ISIS and coming to this country illegally, if they immigrated here.

But when the white mainstream media looks at a white guy killer, like Paddock, they see themselves and wonder how it could happen.   As a former prosecutor, there is never a good reason for a murder or why someone kills and plans a vicious attack on hundreds of innocent individuals.  So, please stop trying to find out why or how a good white guy went bad.  Or in the reverse, look for the same good traits when reporting about Black and Muslim victims and killers.  It is a two-way street—if you care to look both ways.

 

And while you’re looking down the two-way black and white street, make sure that Black history is not erased in the coverage.  First, the killing of 58 persons in Las Vegas was not the largest mass killing in modern U. S. history—as inaccurately rolled on many network chyrons and stated by anchors.   The largest U.S. killing occurred on the early morning hours of June 1, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  White Tulsa police officers deputized other whites to attack innocent Blacks for what they believed was an attack on a white woman by a black man. In the vicious killing, burning and raping that followed of an entire town of 10,000 Blacks, 300 Black persons were killed; 4000 were captured and placed in jail and thousands more left and never returned.  The area was known as the “Negro Wall Street” in 1921 due to wealthy Blacks residing there. And while some may ask, why is this important at a time like the Vegas shooting?  It is always important to never forget history—and particularly to refrain from erasing Black history.

And lastly let’s remember that all Black is not bad and all white is not good.   And Stephen Paddock was not good—at all.  He was pure evil.  He was a domestic terrorist. So please let’s stop trying to make him out to be a very good white guy gone bad.  He was rotten to the core—his white skin and all.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.  She frequently appears on MSNBC, CBS News, PBS, Fox 5 DC and Al Jazeera.  Her opinion articles appear in the Washington Post Huffington Post and Baltimore Sun.